Its been haunting me for a while. Every so often I would get an email. “Have you finished your Tenant Fees Act amendments to your tenancy agreements yet?” or “When are we going to be able to see the new tenancy agreements?”
“Sorry” I would reply, “Still working on it”. Which I was, mind you. Sort of.
At the Conference too, people kept coming up to me. “Have you finished … ?” Me: “No, not yet, I have had to organise this Conference …”
However, once the Conference was over, there was no excuse. I HAD to do them AND get them finished before 1 June. But you know what it’s like when you have a deadline like that. You get a block.
“I’d better deal with these emails” or “I’d better sort out these payment records” I’d say to myself, absorbing myself in mindless admin (it can be very soothing, mindless admin). Almost anything seemed more attractive than settling down and doing the tenancy agreement amendments.
I decided to reserve the bank holiday weekend for the task, and then spent most of Saturday doing updates to the new site Home Page. It wasn’t until Sunday that I actually got down to it. It took most of the day.
Doing the tenancy amendments
It’s only assured shorthold tenancy agreements which are subject to the new rules. We had four AST templates on Landlord Law:
- The ‘bog standard’ AST
- The ‘bog standard’ AST for a room in a shared house
- Ditto for both but for student lets
The way we do our templates on the new Landlord Law is to have ‘conditional php code’ in them – so you can have a bit of code which says (in code speak) “if the person completing the form ticks this box to say ‘yes’ to (for example) a guarantor clause – put this” – so if they tick to say they don’t want guarantors, no guarantor clauses appear in the document. It’s a great system, driven by the Gravity Forms plugin (for WordPress), but it takes a bit of getting used to.
I decided that, although we already had some conditional clauses for England and Wales alternatives in the existing ASTs, the tenant fees act requirements would make this too complex. So the answer was to do new forms.
That meant doing copies of all 4 agreements and then going through them, together, clause by clause and checking to see whether they were compliant.
- Ensuring that the only fees provided for by the agreement were permitted ones
- Making it clear in other clauses that any threatened payment would be by way of compensation for a breach of the clause (which is allowed) and not a ‘fee’ as such
- Tidying up a few other bits and pieces
I was helped enormously by the ARLA Propertymark Toolkit which they kindly allowed me to see, (on the implied condition I did not copy it! Which of course I didn’t – our tenancy agreements are very different).
It’s a GREAT toolkit and ARLA have done really well for their members by developing this. Having it saved a huge amount of research time.
However, when you are drafting something which people are going to be using in all sorts of different circumstances – you have to be SO careful. I also try to keep my agreements as ‘plain English’ as possible. So as well as getting the law right, I am concentrating on making it clear and easy to understand. Words, words, words. And yet more words.
To do this you have to be in a state of mind which is calm, very focused and somewhat obsessive. It takes a long time to get into it – and when you ARE in it, it’s sometimes difficult to come out of it …
By 5.00 pm on Sunday afternoon, I was almost at screaming point but had largely finished the first drafts. So I just published one of the tenancies without making it live and sent a link over to Martyn, an extremely helpful Landlord Law member who is also a solicitor, who obliges sometimes by casting an eye over my drafts.
Martyn, bless him, came up trumps and in the midst of his very busy bank holiday, found time to do some detailed notes for me. Thank you so much, Martyn! You are such a star.
Getting them online
Monday I went to see my Mum, but most of Tuesday was spent getting the drafts in good order, checking over everything else, getting them online, doing links and explanatory posts, all the stuff you have to do when dealing with a major amendment to the law on a membership site (well its what I do).
So yesterday they went live and subject to the scrutiny of members. Only two people so far have emailed me (as I requested) with things they had spotted (a couple of typos and a suggestion). So thank you to them too.
Some thoughts on the changes
I was never in favour of letting agent fees to tenants.
They put letting agents in a ‘conflict of interest’ position which – had they been solicitors, would have resulted in disciplinary action, as well as sometimes being in breach of agency law. Had the sector been properly regulated from the start, they would probably have never been allowed to develop in the way that they did.
However, SOMEONE has to pay for the work agents do. Now it will have to be just landlords.
Landlords though have had a lot of new things to contend with recently, including harsh new tax rules, and so are not well placed to afford a big hike in agency fees. So many will be looking to either sell up or self manage. That may or may not be good for tenants.
So far as the landlords I generally work with are concerned, they didn’t charge fees to tenants anyway, apart from maybe a modest sum to cover the cost of getting a credit check done. I know this, as I did a survey recently and this is what most of them told me.
However, in my new tenancy agreements, I have been making it clear what landlords are entitled to charge (£50 in most cases for amending the tenancy agreement) – which may mean that landlords now start charging them. When they didn’t before. That may not be hugely helpful for tenants either.
Although of course, it will be better than the £300 admin fee here and £450 tenancy agreement fee there which they have been charged by some of our more enterprising letting agents (who may now be sliding into difficulties).
Tenants are also more likely to suffer a hike in rent if they want to keep a pet – rather than a refundable higher deposit. If indeed the landlords allow pets. Many are saying they won’t – but that may just be the militant landlords.
Time will see how it all works out.
So that’s it. Four new agreements for landlords to use, in England, after 31 May which should ensure that they (the landlords) are compliant with the Tenant Fees Act.
I’m going to take it a bit easier next week!
The agreements are available to all Landlord Law members as part of their membership entitlement. You can find out more about membership here.